The Problem With Iggy Azalea
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Recently, my nine year-old nephew came running into the room, eager to find a seat to watch a performance by Iggy Azalea on an awards show. He sat, enraptured by her performance, yelling, “Iggy!” utterly oblivious to the look of chagrin and dismay on my face, as I, too, tuned in to watch this white girl from Australia, turned ATL-style rapper, caricature everything I love about Southern Hip Hop.
The look and feeling of chagrin has stayed with me each time I turn on my radio and hear Iggy’s hit song, “Fancy” coming through my speakers. And some of the dismay I feel is at myself, because almost without fail, I immediately start bobbing my head to the beat.
Iggy is a protégé of T.I., one of my all-time favorite rappers. Though T.I. is known for Atlanta-style, crunk Southern bravado that is a hallmark of Black culture in that city, according to journalist/blogger Bené Viera, T.I. recently expressed disappointment that “ we’re at a place in America where we still see color.” Apparently, color is only relevant when he’s talking about racist acts against Black men, but not when he has to think through his complicity in white appropriation of Hip Hop music.
As a born-and-raised Southern girl, who believes that lazy summer evenings are best spent with your top back or your sun roof open, bass-heavy music booming through nice speakers, while you slowly make a few blocks through the neighborhood, to see who’s out and what’s poppin,’ I resent Iggy Azalea for her co-optation and appropriation of sonic Southern Blackness, particularly the sonic Blackness of Southern Black women. Everytime she raps the line “tell me how you luv dat,” in her song “Fancy,” I want to scream “I don’t love dat!” I hate it. The line is offensive because this Australian born-and-raised white girl almost convincingly mimics the sonic register of a downhome Atlanta girl.
The question is why? Why is her mimicry of sonic Blackness okay? Though rap music is a Black and Brown art form, one does not need to mimic Blackness to be good at it. Ask the Beastie Boys, or Eminem, or Macklemore. These are just a smattering of the white men who’ve been successful in rap in the last 30 years and generally they don’t have to appropriate Blackness to do it. In the case of Southern rappers like Bubba Sparxx or Paul Wall, who do “sound Black” as it were, at least it is clear that they also have the accents of the places and communities in which they grew up.
Not so with Iggy Azalea, who left Australia at age 16. To be clear, I know all of the problems with the phrases “sound Black” and “sonic Blackness.” As a kid, I was mercilessly teased for and accused of “talking white,” “acting white” and basically attempting to “be white.” I learned during those difficult days to dissent from social norms that suggested that the only English for Black people is a vernacular English that stands adjacent to “corporate,” “standard,” or white English. I balked at such suggestions and reveled in my ability to master “standard” English.
Still I knew that at home, around my family and especially around my Grandmother, my tongue got lazier, as I spoke of things I was “fin (fixing) to do,” as I yelled at my cousins about how “nary a one of them” (which sounded more like “nair one”) treated me right, as “th” sounds at the beginning of words easily became “d” sounds, and as the “g” sounds fell off the end of -ing words. At home, in the safety, comfort and cocoon of my Southern Black family, I talked how my people talked.